The 2023 season started off miserable for much of the Kansas City Royals offense. MJ Melendez, “Merv” for short, as his teammates would call him, was front and center during those offensive woes. He’s hitting just .237 this season but that number has actually risen drastically as the season has gone on. From Opening Day through the end of May, Melendez slashed just .205/.297/.362. His wRC+ in that span was 23% under league average, at 77 and he was striking out more than 31%.
For all of those reasons and more, it seems understandable how much of the fanbase grew disenchanted with the Royals’ outfielder. The season became lost very quickly, the offense was among the league’s worst, and Melendez was among the very worst of the worst. In fact, the ire of fans continues even today. Many fans I’ve spoken to or interacted with echo a similar sentiment: “I’m done with MJ. I’ve seen enough.” To that I ask a simple question — have you watched any baseball since the All-Star Break?
MJ Melendez has been everything we want and more of late
As much as we’d like to, nothing is changing the past. Those rough months to open the 2023 campaign are etched in stone and forever a part of Melendez’s stat line. The struggles continued beyond May and into June, then into July. By that time, even the most optimistic of fans were starting to wonder if MJ needed a reset in Triple-A Omaha. At that time, I asked the Royals’ Major League hitting coach, Alec Zumwalt, what he saw for his second-year outfielder with the second half approaching.
Few people know outside of our players how hard he has worked to get on track. He is however on the right track with his work and I am excited to keep this going especially now that we have gotten through the break. With his hard hit at 51%, the gains he needs to make are in the margins.
That sentiment showed up on the field, as we saw a noticeable shift in his hands at the plate as well as his overall results.
Melendez has made a change in hand positioning over the ASB.— Cole Ragans Cy Young (@SadRoyalsfan_) July 17, 2023
On the left in earlier this year @ Angels.
On the right was yesterday where he homered and doubled. pic.twitter.com/AObW1quppG
Just how well has it shown in the results? Since the All-Star Break, Melendez has slashed an impressive .290/.346/.511. In those 48 games, he’s hit eight home runs thanks in part to a .222 ISO. The strikeout rate, once over 30%, is down to 26.7%. In that span, his OPS of .857 ranks 46th in baseball — just ahead of Juan Soto at .856. Merv is one of eight Royals hitters with at least 100 PA in the second half. His 126 wRC+ is second on the team to Bobby Witt Jr.
Much hype has surrounded Bobby Witt Jr. this season, deservedly so. He’s become a superstar before our eyes and is becoming everything we’d hoped for after he hit the ground running in the minor leagues. Perhaps some of that attention on Bobby has caused Melendez to go under the radar in the second half. He hasn’t been nearly as good and the book is still out on just how good he can be in the Major Leagues, but so far in the second half, MJ Melendez has blossomed into the player we all hoped he would become. And he’s only getting better.
Assorted Major Leaguers since August 5th
|Bobby Witt Jr.||0.857||125|
In his last 30 games, his triple slash is .311/.371/.566. His .255 ISO in that span ranks 28th in all of baseball, just ahead of Ronald Acuña Jr. His 149 wRC+ is tied with Corbin Carroll for 34th in the league. If we dare to make the sample even smaller and look at just this month of September, it becomes downright ridiculous. So far in September, Melendez has a 202 wRC+, good for the top 50 in baseball. His OPS this month is 1.148 and all of a sudden, he’s walking more than 22% of the time and striking out just 18.2%.
We now have nearly a third of the season in which Melendez has been among the best 50 hitters in baseball and of late, he’s been among the top 10. I wouldn’t place my bets on Melendez becoming a future MVP quite yet, but I’m certainly starting to put some stock into these results and believing in some of them and you should too. The Royals are almost certainly looking past the rough start to the season and putting a lot of stock into what MJ Melendez has become as the season progressed. That’s exactly what you’d like to see in an evaluation year, and fans should take notice as well — Melendez looks like he’s here to stay.